18 March 2014
Saint Patrick’s Day in San Francisco
The rows of people posted on each side of Market Street, in downtown San Francisco, mostly remained silent as the parade marched on. The odd brass bands and loudspeakers did try to liven up the atmosphere a little – of the about hundred groups which paraded, I’d easily say that the one made of (ex or pretending-to-be) hippies from the 1960s generation was the most hilarious and joyful. Compare their faces to the ones made by the very serious scouts, let alone the fake smiles of the local senator, the city’s mayor or other district “supervisors”... making me wonder if those guys really thought that waving hands in slow motion and playing at throwing sweets at bystanders would make them more “likable” – or perhaps is it that they have a fraction of Irish blood in their veins just like we all have East African blood from a few million years ago?!
Truth be told, Saint Patrick's Day has been celebrated in Frisco – or San Fran, however you want to call the city – for the past 162 years, undoubtedly linked to the fact that Irish Americans were its largest ethnic group for quite some time until the top spot went to Chinese Americans at the turn of the current century. That is if you don’t count hobos as an ethnic group since they’re to be found on every street of the city centre, a good fraction of them clearly and sadly being mentally deranged although they’re generally not (too) aggressive. The largest Chinatown outside of Asia is otherwise said to be in San Francisco – and maybe there even are Sino-Irish families nowadays.
It did seem that all trade associations, corporations and guilds of the city had decided to parade – the police force, firefighters, various Churches, dance groups, soccer clubs and what not. Heck, most didn’t even bother to wear the traditional green colour although green-beaded necklaces were thrown out in addition of sweets and other candies.
Why green, I hear you say? I thought Saint Patrick was traditionally associated with the colour blue? Very good remarks, young Padawan. Listen carefully since there are two topics we need to consider:
First, the colour green has been associated with Ireland for the past 500 years when the green harp flag was first used by the Irish Catholic Confederation, green being the colour of rebellion.
Secondly, 800 years before that, we’re in the 9th century of our era, Saint Patrick's feast day – the 17th of March, Patrick’s supposed date of death – had started to be celebrated by Irish people. British-born bishop Patrick had partly contributed to having brought Christianity on the island in the 5th century and naturally gradually became Ireland’s patron saint.
Now mix the colour green and Saint Patrick in a pint of beer, or two since we're talking about Ireland, throw in some three-leaved shamrock (used by Patrick to explain the nebulous concept of Holy Trinity to Irish pagans), and by roughly the 19th and 20th centuries you get Saint Patrick’s Day becoming a national holiday associated with the colour green and celebrating everything Irish in general. Tada! Or cheers, rather!